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Roundtable: Raising Taxes; More Salk Troubles; Old Problems At SDUSD; Bye-Bye Remedial Math

Roundtable: Raising Taxes; More Salk Troubles; Old Problems At SDUSD; Bye-Bye Remedial Math
Roundtable: Raising Taxes; More Salk Troubles; Old Problems At SDUSD; Bye-Bye Remedial Math
Raising Taxes, Salk Issues, SDUSD Problems, Remedial MathTHE PANELScott Lewis, editor/CEO, Voice of San Diego Gary Robbins, science & technology reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune Megan Burks, education reporter, KPBS News

MS: In addition to discrimination lawsuit the salt institution face defunding problem. Schools are doing away with remedial and other math classes so more students can graduate. The KPBS roundtable starts now. Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. Joining me are Scott Lewis, editor in chief of voice a San Diego., Gary Robbins science and technology professor. And Meghan Burk. The requirement that two thirds of voters must improve tax increases to pay for new stadiums or convention center expenses may have been subtle by the California Supreme Court. The ruling on proposition 218 218 passed by California voters in 1986 could have profound impacts on high profile projects here and across the state, or not. It is a bit unclear at this point. Scott, tell us what did the majority say? What did they say about how tax increases are provided by local governments and citizens groups? SL: There was a marijuana collective in the city of up in that was challenging the city's decision that what they wanted to do was pass a taxi. They said no, this isn't a tax. They appealed and one first of the main court obviously onto the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal said we don't have to decide that because the law is silent on what you are doing. It is silent on the citizens initiative tax. That had huge implications because that would mean it was silent in all of its parts including the part that says that if you do a special tax via citizens initiative then you would need two thirds of the vote. Right now if you want to pass a tax on any local level, if you're just going to give the money to the government for no reason, you need 50 percent of the vote. If you going to give the money for specific person -- purpose, schools, or stadium, you need two thirds of about . What this says is if citizens initiatives don't have to comply to that part of the Constitution, if it is silent on citizens initiatives -- citizens initiatives that means they can raise tax was just a simple majority. The have been several tax increases over the last decade that have fallen -- even though they got more than 50 percent of the vote. There was a big tax increase for fire protection that would've created of County fire Department after the 2007 fires . People say they are anti-tax data and Bo poured. 65 percent of people voted for that. MS: It almost got there but it didn't get 60 percent of the vote. SL: Those things are much easier to do except it would be we are. It wouldn't be the government putting up the tax it would be special interest, transit advocates, school advocates, or teachers unions whatever could get together and put us citizens using -- union up. MS: People say there is a lot of mischief there because we can wink and nod and some city government folks considered an back a citizens initiative. SL: It is important to remember that everywhere else in the country is like this. You can Ray special taxes. You know in Arlington Texas built the stadium there. They got simple majority to pass it. This would be strange. The mayor wanted to do a convention center expansion and you some of the money for the homeless in the streets. That would've taken two thirds of the vote. He was awarded it may be lucky enough because the hotels could get together and put together an initiative that would only perhaps need 50 percent of the vote. Everyone is still reading every word of this ruling to see if it truly does have those vast implications. I think over the next couple weeks we will start to see if people trusted enough to actually try to test it. MS: We have taxpayer groups that are concerned. I have John over at the Howard Jarvis Association. I'm sorry. We don't have a bite. I have to read this. If there is anyway we can sugarcoat this it is a significant decision that will leave unbridled collusion between local governments and special interest groups. That is what they are saying. SL: Howard Jarvis was the group that put up that requirement. You may think it is odd to have -- if you're going to tell people where you're going to spend the money you think it would be more compliant. You should be able to pass that text easier if you can guarantee where the money goes. They may that I two thirds precisely as they knew it would be easier. They wanted to make it as hard as possible to pass the tax. Now they are promising to go to voters and legislators to get this fixed. MB: I think that there is definitely reason to be concerned and skeptical we are if you look at school funding with prop 13, it has been really hard to pass new measures to benefit schools so we have seen this move toward bonds where you do have to lay out. You have to Sam going to build this great awesome stadium, I'm going to do this, and we have seen the result of that which is it is not sexy to install pipes so schools are kind of looting -- losing out on basic operations . SL: In 2010 the unified school district tried to pass a partial tax and got 58 percent of the vote for enough -- enough for majority but not enough for the two thirds. You can imagine teachers getting together to do this. Construction zones is the only vote that you need 55 percent of the vote. MS: A few seconds left in this segment. Are there likely legal challenges may change this whole thing? SL: Most likely somebody will try to do it and be challenged. We will see for sure if it is as clear as we think it is. MS: Courts may have another crack at this Apple as we go along. It will be fascinating if it stands. Have to move on. The turmoil continues at the La Jolla Salk Institute. You begin with the news that 3 female scientists have filed lawsuits for tender discrimination. As we told you they didn't do it lightly or easily. Here's a clip we are several weeks ago of renowned scientist explaining [Clip] It really came down to -- I was just keeping quiet about stuff I just felt was so wrong. I lost respect for myself. That is what I meant when I said I could not do this. That was the tipping point. I thought really, am I going to step away from my science which is at the peak of almost there and I have an incredible story in order to fight this. I thought, I have to. My first thought was, you are going to get scoop and you are going to lose this entire thing. I thought, if I don't I'm going to be made extinct. MS: After initially disparaging the women in their work, the Salk president dialed the back recently just before major fundraiser then came news this week that the Salk has lost its Board President while facing steep challenges to raise enough money to compete with other institutions seeking cures for deadly diseases . Gary, the overall impression would have been that Salk was sailing along. A were doing well naturally but you have some documents that tell a different tale. GR: Salk is putting out conflicting information. They had a campaign that went very well. They raise $360 million. That ended in 2016. Within a year they were privately asking themselves could we quickly raised hundred million dollars in an endowment. They were asking very provocative questions like should we sell our name or alter our name for a lot of money, like $1 billion. If someone came to us and said we will if you $1 billion to make it the Salk Mark Institute what we do that? What becomes apparent as you look at these documents is they are very concerned about their financial future. We are not talking way down the road. Were talking right now. They are doing poorly in raising money from the National Institutes of Health all others are not. There is problems in the management in the raising the money. I think it has a lot to do with who they are as an Institute. They want to stay small and focus on basic research but they are being pressured like other institutes to take those discoveries, and take them further along so farmer companies and donors will get them to the market and they are just not a that mind. MS: Do they have a big endowment or pool they can rely on? GR: Have an endowment. I don't know exactly how large it is. One of the document say they are roughly even with some, behind others, ahead of others. It varies but it is not a huge endowment. They didn't work on that type a thing for a long time. I think they were hopeful that people like Ted weight -- Waite as chairman but he is leaving only after one year in that position. They need better management and an idea on how they will raise money over the next 10 years. MS: Is kind of mysterious why Ted Waite is leaving? GR: He has stepped down to other boards at the same time. He said it was for personal reasons. Didn't make clear why -- that is his prerogative obviously to do that but I think one of the issues that we are seeing is the Salk is not being very transparent . They don't want to sit down and answer questions face-to-face. A lot of their money comes from the public. It is a real issue there. We're hoping they loosen up some. MS: So what are they saying for the record? What is their public posture? GR: Are saying their financial condition is good. One of their statements that they had an operating surplus of about $1 million average over 3 years. That is not a lot of money. One of their documents sent they had a deficit of more than 3 million dollars in one of those years. The problem here is that what they do is very expensive. A piece of equipment can Klos -- cost close to $1 million . Different scientific disciplines change quickly. There is a lot of money flowing into immunotherapy. If you're not in position to do that with the right people or write equipment you can be left behind and that hurt your bottom line. JL: We have talked about finances but there was this gender discrimination issue that came up as well. Is that tied together or is that a separate drama altogether? GR: A lot of it comes back to money. These female professors are saying, look, you weren't playing -- paying us at the same level. You weren't giving us access to the same grants. You weren't giving us the same level of promotions or leadership opportunities. One way or another it all ties back to money -- MB: It also ties back to leadership . If something gets to the point where it goes to the courts, what wasn't happening before? GR: I think people will look closely at Blackburn now. The way she really cool -- ridiculed those 2 professors she got a lot of blowback from national professors that said it wasn't necessary to go there. Let's focus on the problem. Another said whether she personally had the ability to bring in the kind of money that the Institute feel that it needs. That is the management issues -- issue. There are management issues the money issues that affect anything from deployment, diversity and what they actually study. MS: A lot of competition among these research, -- institutions from the same money. GR: Go across the street to Sanford Burnham, TSRI, they are in the same fight. Burnham a president recently stepped down, 3 years after arriving. Burnham owns a facility in Florida and has had financial problems with it. There are trying to get rid of it. It wears and tears on executives and institutions. We have raise a lot of money in many areas but money is a constant. MS: The cutbacks in Washington and who knows this hurricane funding and the disaster down in the Houston region now, health and are the agencies that provide these grants, what's in store? GR: The Institute generally here and in other parts of the country don't talk in a clear Frank way with the public. They say it is harder than never to get NIH money but if you really look closely on vantage -- balance, NHI money -- NIH money has gone up . They are talking this year it will go up. That is what they are hoping it will do. In fact, these institutes have gotten tremendous amounts of money. Some are better than others at competing for it. That gets lost some of the time. If you're having problems with your faculty at a place like Salk that could mean you have a problem competing and those private documents to set right out straight that Salk hadn't done enough to hire midcareer professors who had a really good track record of bringing in a lot of money. They had a lot of people who were younger, a lot of people who are older but they weren't doing the kind of job that they need to to have those people in the middle. MS: We have to move on but we will watch that sore as we go -- sore as we go. They have more money and fewer students to educate and just -- then just a few years ago. Yet the San Diego unified school district begins the school year with many of the problems. Most of them are familiar. Scott, you sat down and wrote out all these problems. Give us the bullet points on that list. SL: That was a really interesting one. Enrollment has gone down yet the money has gone up. There was a corresponding change in the [ Indiscernible ] ratio. I would check on it this year to see how that trend is going because there have been changes personnel wise, but they literally can't tell us how many employees they have. We have been asking for 5 months to get the information -- 4 months I guess to get the information about how many employees --pretty basic questions and they can't tell us. It is that along with the fact that they have invested millions into the facilities. There are a lot of promises about investing in buildings a lot of that money went to fund stadiums. There was a school where they found that in the pipes. They had used that school and that plumbing at that school to sell 3 separate bonds and tax increases in such that would go into construction bonds and never address the piping and that school and yet had built a new field for that school. There are a lot of these sorts of things. We have been following graduation rate. They are proud of the graduation rate. What we also discovered is they had encouraged hundreds of the most, the high struggling high school students to go to charter schools to get out of that graduation rate calculation. When they denied that they put up a wet page -- webpage send we were full of it and we did know we were talking about in 2 weeks ago the acknowledge that yes indeed that had been happening that they had been encouraging students who are struggling to leave traditional district schools for charter manage schools. Over and over again these kinds of things have just piled up. I sat down and listed them all. This year Scripps Grant high school doesn't have a principal. The custodial staff has been completely wiped out. I hear complaints of text not being able to work on -- techs not being able to work on computers but some of the systemic issues have been quite dismayed. MS: It is upsetting because of the lack of transparency. You have run into that as well haven't you Megan? MB: Check before coming down here. I have a public records request that I put in in January so night -- so I am now on 32 weeks. Of our pregnant I would be going into the 3rd trimester. ML: You could have -- if I were pregnant I would be going into my 3rd transfer -- trimester. You could've had a baby. SL: They will say they lost key personnel, the CFO left last year. They will say the people in charge of these processing of these questions have been decimated. It always goes back to the people who answer you can be here right now or I can answer that question. We track to the number of days that it takes to get back on some of these public records request. It actually corresponds to about March 2015 or so when it just started soaring. I don't know exactly what happened at that point but the time to get 70s back has been -- MB: I spoke with citizens groups that they want to pursue litigation against this anti-Islamophobia program that they put out. It all is contingent along whether they can get records request and they are behind me. The last I spoke to them a couple weeks ago they had gotten it but this could be the deciding factor on whether not a deed to deploy legal resources. SL: We sued and won our against them. Without up lawyer winning the case is not that optimistic. GR: Silly -- sincerely wanted to understand how they pulled off his graduation rate that they were so proud of. It was much higher than even those that has study the situations that it would be. SL: We ran into so many roadblocks that it became more and more dismaying as we peeled that onion. They did form a commission to evaluate that those stories that we uncovered and hopefully that report will come back and have some insight about what is really going on but yes it throws into doubt all the information. MB: When Mario finally got the records he needed to confirm what he was reporting and a directly, it was like suddenly the bunker had open and we could talk about some legitimate reasons. Sometimes these charter schools are the right choice for students but instead we spend months in denial and really just frustrating people. SL: This is at the heart of what I was complaining about. There's just this fear of vulnerability. They are unwilling to admit that anything is wrong. Obviously, there are going to be struggles for such a giant urban district like that but there is an immunity of fear showing any kind of vulnerability about these. There is always this argument about we are perfect, everything has been fine until somehow you can make that tipping point where it is okay to admit. MB: Or it is about the kids so with the AB test score at Scripps Ranch, people in the media felt like there were lied to because they were told there was no cheating incident and then they found out there was one. We wasted a full week when the district come out and said, there was one cheating incident, but let's not evolve into bullying this kid. The district could've leaned into it and send a positive message. MS: We are going to keep a close eye on your reporting as we go forward. That is the basic fundamental thing we do which is hold public officials accountable. I do want to switch gears for another back to school level this is at the college level. You explain how remedial math has become a huge obstacle to stay in college and get a degree. MB: For a lot of time when you go into a community college you take placement test. These placement test are continually misplacing students. A lot of times students will land 2 or 3 layers below having to make up high school math before they can ever get into a college level math class. For a lot of students -- maybe people who are going to community college did know his love school , tried it out. Then they realize they will have to take 2 years to get up to a college level just drop out. A lot of kids really tread water. They get stuck in these classes and don't have a chance to earn a degree even if they are not going into a stem field. MS: Or story focused on this particular college. What changes were made? MB: The were a front runner locally in getting rid of this math pipeline of doom, getting rid of the lower levels and just putting students either straight and that first level over in -- remediation and accelerating it or putting them straight into college math giving them a better learning experience, working remediation but letting them make progress toward a degree. MS: There are some parents and academics alarmed about this. We have a clip from the professor at UC San Diego. [Clip] See headlines that say do away with algebra, but they're still going to be requirements that students have quantitative reasoning in order to get degrees. What is exciting is we are opening up the conversation to say what does that look like? MS: You were explaining part of what that looks like. These changes, how would they help students? MB: They have us dotted results for the first year. Before making these changes, about just 10 percent of students that came in to those lower-level classes would actually get a math course completed and have it count toward their degree. With this change it is now 67 percent. From 10-67 percent. It is early but it looks pretty promising. There are others -- there is date universities and other states that have made similar changes and they are all seeing maybe not as stunning changes but they have deemed it successful. GR: Is there any sense of how it is affecting a school like Cal State San Marcos which takes students? MB: San Marcos is growing really fast . A lot of their growth is in the science and mathematics and computer sciences. To they have a sense of what this will mean? MS: This will segue beautifully into a clip we have.MB: CSU San Marcos and OCS use are making similar changes that Board of Trustees put on an order this summer to have them rework their classes, get rid of this math pipeline and accelerate remediation if not for go it altogether. They will be doing the same thing. They are being careful to make sure that there are options that support students who want to go in the stem fields still. There is a lot of discussion in the math world about this. MS: I hope I'm pronouncing this right. This is saying people think math is dumb down. That is not the case he says. [Clip] Somebody who is interested to start a stem field and therefore was interested in taking a calculus course who comes proficient in algebra to content, we would have to be able to remediate that student in lesser time than we have had to in the past. We are not going to do that I lowering the calculus class. MS: How are students reacting? MB: They are excited. I spoke to several students who had gone through the class. They said if they didn't have that class that would've dropped out. MS: Were going to comment on the bite thing? MB: I think that they still want to provide this ability for students to get into stem fields but it is about looking at the petit Oji and making the class better. MS: Keeping kids in school. If they are not there they can get a degree. They can move on. Very interesting development. That does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS roundtable. I would like to us they -- thanks Scott Lewis , Gary Roberts of the San Diego Union Tribune, and Meghan Burk of KPBS news. A reminder, all the stories we discussed are available on our website,, where you get your podcast you can look us up there. Before ending I want to tell my old friends and all the folks in the Houston region that our thoughts and best wishes are with you at this perilous time. I live through and covered a couple of tropical storms as a reporter for the old Houston Post. I saw firsthand the devastation it can bring in though nothing on the scale of hurricane Harvey. Life will never be the same after this, but life goes on in our era of climate change. Thank you for joining us today on the roundtable.


The Story

The California Supreme Court decided this week that proposals by citizens to raise taxes for roads or schools should be treated differently than initiatives from local governments.

Tax increases put on the ballot by citizens’ groups could pass with a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds required for government proposals.

The court’s ruling agreed with an earlier one from the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

This is could be a very big deal for San Diego. Last year, SANDAG’s half-cent tax increase for transportation projects failed with 58 percent of the vote. A 2008 measure to fund county fire services failed with 64 percent.

Initiatives on issues like the Convention Center expansion, affordable housing, school construction, or even taxes on soda, may re-appear on a ballot near you, soon.

RELATED: California Supreme Court: Local tax hikes proposed via initiative are different from those by elected officials

RELATED: The State Supreme Court Just Changed Everything We Knew About Local Tax Hikes


The Story

When two of its female scientists – and later a third – sued the Salk Institute for bias toward their male colleagues in pay, promotions, grants and leadership opportunities, a statement approved by Salk President Elizabeth Blackburn denied the charges and disparaged their work, rankings and publishing records.

Much has happened in the two weeks since that news broke. On August 18, Blackburn issued a new statement - just before a major fundraiser - saying the Salk greatly values the contributions of the three scientists.

Then billionaire Ted Waitt, chair of the Salk board of trustees, announced he is leaving in November for personal reasons.

Now the Institute, which raised $361 million privately two year ago with Waitt’s help, is facing intense competition and huge financial challenges. One big one: to develop discoveries that will attract big money from drug companies, government, etc.

Meanwhile, the Salk's neighbors at UC San Diego raised $1.12 billion for research last year. Scripps Research is working to speed up its pipeline of therapies.

RELATED: Salk faces 'daunting' need for money despite big success with donors

RELATED: Salk president softens criticism of 2 faculty who sued for gender discrimination


The Story

Cindy Marten has been superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District since 2013. When she took the job, her evaluation of the state of the district was poor, but she didn’t blame anyone.

Four years on, the big problems are piling up, but Marten still doesn't blame anyone. And she doesn't confront the problems publicly.

A few of these big problems:

-SDUSD has fewer students than in 2013, but more employees. Class size, meanwhile, remains the same.

-Despite an increase in funding, deficit-mandated layoffs for the 2017-18 school year.

-The district touted an improved graduation rate. But it was achieved by pushing poor-performers into charter schools.

-Schools are falling into more disrepair, in spite of billions in tax dollars approved by voters for repair and construction.

-Rebuilt Lincoln High School is losing students. The school was without a principal for more than a year, until students staged a walkout.

Nothing to see here, folks, says Marten, which is true. Public records requests to the district go unanswered. SDUSD almost purged all its emails over six months old, and a journalist was warned by the communications chief that her body might wash up on shore.

It was a joke, he said.

RELATED: San Diego Unified Has an Overwhelming List of Problems, and the District Should Lean Into Them


The Story

For math-deficient students to succeed at college-level math, the trick is to eliminate remedial math classes.

Make sense?

Actually, yes, say a growing number of community and four-year colleges.

Currently, most junior college students must pass several low-level math classes before being allowed to take math that will count toward their AA degrees. Often, they get stuck, give up and don't move on.

Just 10 percent of Cuyamaca College students who needed remedial math made it through a college level course under this system. So Cuyamaca is among several colleges eliminating remedial classes in favor of college-level classes that include remediation.

Preparing for this change, SDSU and Cal State San Marcos are joining a statewide effort to revamp their math curricula and do away with some common math courses so more students can graduate.

RELATED: Cuyamaca College Offers Case Study In Eliminating The ‘Math Pipeline Of Doom’